Jeurys Familia entered 2018 with questions attached. The right-hander had begun '17 on the suspension list after violating MLB's personal conduct policy, and then missed most of the summer with an arterial clot in his pitching shoulder. After Familia finished the year with a 4.38 ERA and his highest walk
Jeurys Familia entered 2018 with questions attached. The right-hander had begun '17 on the suspension list after violating MLB's personal conduct policy, and then missed most of the summer with an arterial clot in his pitching shoulder. After Familia finished the year with a 4.38 ERA and his highest walk rate as a full-time pitcher, it was fair to wonder if he was entering a new stage of his career.
Fast forward to the present, and Familia might now be overlooked. He pitched much more like his former self in a half-season with the Mets (2.88 ERA, 3.1 strikeout-to-walk ratio) before helping to fortify Oakland's outstanding bullpen down the stretch. And now, as Familia enters free agency for the first time, he could end up netting a larger contract than people might expect.
Here are the arguments in Familia's corner this offseason.
Youth is on his side
Familia has been in the New York spotlight long enough to forget that he's still only entering his age-29 season. That makes him younger than most of the other big free-agent relievers, including Craig Kimbrel (30 years old), Adam Ottavino (turns 33 this week), Zach Britton (30), Andrew Miller (33), Player Page for David Robertson (33) and Joe Kelly (30), and teams might be persuaded to give Familia an extra year on his next contract.
He comes with no compensation attached
Unlike Kimbrel, teams won't need to surrender a Draft pick to sign Familia since he was traded midseason. If certain teams are scared away by the qualifying-offer cost attached to Kimbrel (not to mention Kimbrel's financial expectations), Familia is waiting as an alternative.
He was durable again in 2018
Familia's shoulder would be one of the biggest red flags for prospective buyers if he didn't pitch in 70 games and log 72 innings for New York and Oakland last season. Outside of 2017, Familia has been one of baseball's most durable closers in recent times; Zach Duke, Bryan Shaw and Tony Watson are the only pitchers beside Familia with at least four seasons of 70 appearances since '14, and the Rockies inked Shaw to a three-year, $27 million deal last winter. Shaw owned 11 career saves when he signed with Colorado, while Familia has saved 127 games with a lower career ERA.
He still keeps the ball in the yard
Familia did see his ground-ball rate drop from a percentage routinely above 60 in 2015-17 to 47.1 percent in 2018. But the added air balls he allowed didn't turn into a whole lot of damage: Familia's .326 expected weighted on-base average (xwOBA) on balls in play -- which estimates how hitters should have fared based on exit velocity and launch angle -- was nearly in line with his mark from '15, when he finished with an excellent 1.85 ERA and 2.74 FIP. Familia has always been adept at limiting home runs (he's allowed just 16 in his regular-season career) and, by extension, barrels -- Statcast™'s term for batted balls that typically go for extra-base hits.
Lowest barrel-per-batted ball rate allowed, since 2015
Min. 500 batted balls (345 pitchers)
- Britton: 2.2 percent
2. Familia: 2.6 percent (3.2 percent in 2018)
- Alex Claudio: 2.7 percent
- Blake Treinen: 3.0 percent
- (tie) Dan Jennings and Brad Ziegler: 3.4 percent
So, Familia represents an under-30 free-agent reliever with a proven track record as either a closer or overqualified set-up man, and he's someone who won't cost teams a quality Draft pick next June. Who could use him the most?
Now that Kimbrel has rejected Boston's qualifying offer, it would be surprising to see him don a Red Sox uniform again. Familia knows all about the pressures of pitching in a big market, and while there were a few rough patches in Queens, he enjoyed plenty of high points, too. President of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski could simply turn to Matt Barnes as internal candidate for closer, but signing Familia would help Boston fortify one of its only perceived weak spots during the club's march to the World Series title this fall.
The South Siders could be aggressive in free agency, and signing a proven closer like Familia could help their roster take a step forward. The White Sox's closer situation was essentially by committee after they traded Joakim Soria midseason.
Michael Trout's free-agency clock continues to tick, and Los Angeles hasn't had a closer it could count on consistently since Huston Street saved 40 games back in 2015. Signing Familia would allow Keynan Middleton and Richard Parker to settle back into set-up roles, where they're probably more effective.
Thomas Pressly turned into a star once Minnesota traded him to Houston, Addison Reed had a disappointing debut and Trevor Hildenberger is probably not the answer. The American League Central is likely going to be up for grabs in the coming years, and maybe Familia could be a cornerstone for the Twins.
Atlanta might just decide to stick with Arodys Vizcaino, who was very good in his first audition as closer in 2018. But the Braves have already been linked to their former star Kimbrel, and the reality is that if they want a big name, they could get Familia without the headliner price tag and qualifying-offer considerations.
We know the Phillies are poised to spend this offseason. If they're going to open the purse strings and sign either Bryce Harper or Manny Machado to a record deal, they shouldn't stop there. Philadelphia may as well acquire an established starter to solidify its bullpen, too.
Matt Kelly is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @mattkellyMLB.